Friday, September 12, 2008

The Transformational Power of an Election, or How Stephen Harper and I Saw the Light

There is nothing quite like unnecessary elections to bring out the cynic in me, although lately I’ve begun to question that cynicism and consider the benefits such excursions to the polls may offer, not only for the country but for the Prime Minister himself.

Like many, I have long viewed our Conservative Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, as a controlling, manipulative, aloof man with an especial disdain for the press and for the many opinions that differ from his. It is, for example, well-known that Conservative Members of Parliament, even cabinet ministers, cannot speak publically without the explicit approval of the P.M.O. (Prime Minister’s Office) lest they risk demotion, even denial of nomination papers at election time. This from a man who, in the last election, campaigned for more openness, Parliamentary democracy, etc.

Indeed, Mr. Harper went so far as to deny the parliamentary press gallery reporters access to him unless they signed a list from which some would be selected to ask questions at press conferences, a seemingly shocking breach of freedom of the press and a complete departure from the Canadian tradition of reporters taking turns asking their questions in a queue. The cynics suggested this was yet another means by which the Mr. Harper was attempting to control the message, thereby further debasing democracy.

I realize now that I have been wrong not to have given the Prime Minister the benefit of the doubt.

What accounts for this transformation of perspective? Part of the answer, I think, lies in the public transformation of Stephen Harper. My family and friends tell me that the election ads they’ve seen suggest he is a changed man. Unfortunately I can only rely on their reports, as to this point I have been unable to watch the commercials featuring Mr. Harper and his blue sweater-clad musings, lest an unfortunate Tourette’s-like stream of profanity issue from me. I hereby acknowledge my weakness.

Apparently in one such ad, Mr. Harper talks intimately about his family, especially his children and the bond-strengthening activities they share; for example, son Harper plays the guitar while Dad plays the piano; after all, according to the P.M., son Harper is at that age when he doesn’t want to hang out so much with his dad (a sentiment, by the way, with which I would be able to readily identify, were Stephen my Dad), so those times, as in all families, are precious ones. Again, this from a man with a reputation for aloofness and disdain for public exposure; thanks for sharing, Prime Minister Harper.

There are apparently other ads including one in which he reminds all of us, in talking about military veterans, how fortunate we are to have had brave men and women defending our precious way of life and that we owe them a great debt of gratitude, a true departure from the impression some have of him as a Prime Minister willing to consign our contemporary military members to danger and death on mere ideological grounds. Indeed, as I write this I have just learned that Mr. Harper says he intends to withdraw all troops from Afghanistan in 2011, going well beyond the Parliamentary motion this year committing to the withdrawal of troops only from Kandahar province, the most dangerous part of the country where most of our troops are serving. I am beyond words in my amazement of and appreciation for the Prime Minister’s evolution.

Indeed, every day seems to bring new evidence of even more rapid growth in the development of Mr. Harper’s compassion. I just saw a news report in which the Prime Minister, obviously sharing our incredulity over the 13 cent a liter gas jump that has taken place today, September 12th, allegedly as a result of Hurricane Ike-driven threats to Texas oil refineries, has teasingly suggested that there will be some announcements regarding government intervention in oil companies’ gouging of consumers. Again, this from a man who earlier in the summer stated there was little government could do to affect gas prices, so no efforts would be made. I’m beginning to think that as this election continues, Mr. Harper’s growth will perhaps culminate in a Nobel Peace Prize nomination for his sheer humanitarianism.

Even his clothes reflect a changed man. Gone are the suits and ties, replaced by an array of blue sweaters. I guess it depends on your age, but when I see Mr. Harper dressed that way, I can’t help but think of Ward Cleaver at home with his family, dispensing all of the wisdom, love, patience, understanding, compassion, firmness, and fairness that we associate with Beaver’s dad..

I have been pondering what could bring about what seem to be such abrupt changes in Mr. Harper’s personality. Barring an undiagnosed medical condition, I am only left to infer that there is something humanizing and humbling about engaging in an election campaign. Perhaps it is the regular and daily contact with ‘regular’ people; after all, I am told that in one of the photo gallery series, Mr. Harper, accoutered in that ubiquitous blue sweater, is depicted sitting at someone’s kitchen table in a B.C. home, perhaps extolling life in Canada under his ministrations and demonstrating his understanding of ‘regular’ people. This is clearly a man attempting to forge a bond, especially meaningful for those of us who have ever fantasized about such a visit.

Or maybe it’s something in the coffee, croissants, or donuts in the diners Mr. Harper has been seen frequenting during the campaign, the very places we regular folks gather to strengthen community bonds. Or perhaps a humanizing synergy mysteriously emerges during the campaign of an unnecessary election. Who knows?

In any event, maybe it is only the result, not the explanation, that really matters here. Stephen Harper has worked his magic on me; he has restored my faith, which I long believed to have been obliterated, in the human capacity to change and to grow.

Thank you, Mr. Prime Minister.

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